Wassim Said, Advisor for Policy & Strategy at the U.A.E. Food and Water Security Office, emphasized the centrality of U.S. partnerships to the country’s Food and Water Security Strategy in a U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council webinar held on Thursday, April 8th. A video of the webinar can be found here.
Mr. Said contextualized the U.A.E.’s food security strategy within the challenges of the current era. He explained, “The U.A.E. has always understood that ensuring food security is necessary.” When the pandemic upended life as we know it, the U.A.E. was therefore well prepared and faced no food shortages or price swings. Still, the pandemic prompted U.A.E. leadership to “set more aggressive targets for domestic production,” which led to the creation of an agritech sector development team. The agritech sector development team will be responsible for expanding local production using controlled environment agriculture, aquaculture technology, and other innovative methods.
Mr. Said stressed that the U.A.E.’s food and water security sector is poised to play a major role in the U.A.E.’s 50-year economic development strategy. This economic development strategy was drawn out recently as part of preparations for the U.A.E.’s Golden Jubilee 50-year anniversary celebrations. In fact, Mr Said explained, “food and water security has been identified as one of the two key strategic economic sectors for the U.A.E.’s economic competitiveness.”
Notably, Mr. Said highlighted areas of priority for the Food and Water Security office for the next 50 years. The four strategic areas include:
- Water technology
- Bioengineering applications
- Lab-based/Cultivated/Alternative food
- Controlled environment agriculture
In addition to these key areas, the U.A.E. has focused its efforts on developing aquaculture and expanding seed varieties that can be grown domestically as a means of “producing food that is good for the population and good for the Earth.” Wassim also made note of the U.A.E.’s recently launched UAE Aquaculture Pulse and the continuation of its FoodTech Challenge, one of the many examples of the U.A.E.’s efforts to advance innovation in the food security space. The Food and Water Security Office will soon be sharing a comprehensive list of the many incentives and initiatives around innovation in the food and water security space.
Speaking to the “why” behind the creation of the U.A.E. food security office, Mr. Said cited the country’s forward-looking vision. Food security has always been deemed essential to the wellbeing of the U.A.E., but in appointing a Minister of State for Food Security, U.A.E. leadership has successfully highlighted the significance of food security to the future of the country and streamlined efforts in the space. The Food and Water Security Office is responsible for coordinating the efforts of stakeholders at both the Emirate and federal levels to reduce inefficiencies and lead strategy development. He noted, “The U.A.E. is a place where deliberate planning and continuous efforts yield results.”
Mr. Said also spoke to the addition of water security to the Minister’s portfolio. He explained that the U.A.E. “can’t achieve food security without securing the nexus of food and water.” In removing inefficiencies, the U.A.E. is working to identify technologies that allow for production of food with less input of resources including water.
Charlie Wang, Senior Vice President at AeroFarms, joined the conversation to comment on AeroFarms’ new R&D center in Abu Dhabi that is being opened in cooperation with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO). Mr. Wang asked how the U.A.E. is supporting commercialization efforts for agtech companies coming to the U.A.E. Mr. Said explained that several barriers for commercialization have been removed through streamlined licensing services and access to financial institutions. He also noted that the Food and Water Security Office works closely with private sector actors to address issues on a case-by-case basis.
Duane Cutler, Director of International Business Development for Grōv Technologies, asked how a company like Grōv might go about navigating an expansion to the U.A.E. Grōv is a leading advanced vertical farm technology company that allows high-tech farmers and ranchers to sustainably feed the world. Its technologies produce feed for animal agriculture operations and fresh food for human consumption. Mr. Said explained that the Food and Water Security Office is a good first point of contact given its coordination of the many important players in the sector.
Mr. Said then foreshadowed the future of food security in the U.A.E., hinting at the creation of a new food security specialized economic zone to further facilitate innovation within the sector. This special economic zone would be designed with the hard infrastructure necessary for prototyping at any stage of production. The U.A.E. would welcome SMEs, startups, and large multinational corporations to establish operations within the new zone. Mr. Said suggested that an announcement may be forthcoming in Q3. Additionally, he hinted at exciting developments in the food and water security sector surrounding Expo2020 Dubai.
Mr. Said also commented on the significance of the Abraham Accords to trilateral relations in food and water security, remarking, “We are just at the beginning.” Given the similar challenges faced by Israel and the U.A.E., the Food and Water Security Office has been engaging with Israeli stakeholders to discuss projects related to soil enhancement, seed variety improvement, and efforts in water overall. Mr. Said looks forward to “trilateral cooperation in the realm of food security, which will be seen in the years to come.”
For more information about the Business Council’s work in the food and water security space, please contact Mary Zuccarello at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at www.usuaebusiness.org.